“The Lord of hosts will defend them; and they shall devour” Zechariah 9:15

Two delusions plague the minds of Jews, even those generally knowledgeable of the Torah: that the commandment to cleanse the Promised Land of its natives applies to the seven ancient nations only, and that they only have to be expelled. The truth is, the commandment tells us to cleanse away any natives, and once they have raised their weapons against Jews they must be exterminated. Many people may not like that, but that is Judaism, like it or not, and everything on the matter can be learned from the opening chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy.

On the surface, Exodus 34:11 says that God will do all the dirty work, “Lo, I’m expelling [the six Canaanite nations] from before you.” Well, the Torah is more religious than us: it attributes all actions to God, whether performed by him directly or through human agents. So Deuteronomy 1:8 clarifies, “Look, I gave you this land, come and conquer it.” God did his part on the grand scale, by spiritually allocating this land to Jews, but we must act in the physical realm.

Jews have no choice in the matter: they must obey the divine command. In the scouts’ episode, Jews refused to enter the Promised Land, fearing the associated fighting. It is a matter of conjecture whether they were punished by staying forty years in Sinai, or allowed to live comfortable lives in Sinai according to their wishes. Whether as punishment or rehabilitation after slavery, they were barred from the Promised Land. God did not differentiate between good and bad Jews: Moses, too, was barred from entering Canaan, and died shortly before the invasion. The shepherd shares his flock’s fate. The concept is of great importance: Jews are chosen and have no right to refuse. In the short term, they can exercise free will and suffer for that, but the next generation will follow the divine orders. Executing the divine will later rather than sooner only increases hardships: after forty years of wanderings in Sinai, Jews became affluent (Deut2:7), and therefore less suitable to warfare than their parents.

Zeal matters. Not only in the account of Pinchas, whose descendants received an eternal blessing of peace for his murder of a high-society interfaith family, but closer to our discussion, too. In Deut2:19, God explicitly bans Jews from taking over the land of Amonites, the descendants of Lot. Nevertheless, Jews eventually ran it over and annexed it to the State of God. Centuries later, the Amonites asked for their land back in return for peace. Not a fan of land-for-peace deals, Judge Yiphtah refused to abandon the “towns of our God,” went to war, and with divine help won. Thousands of years before Stephen Decatur, God viewed the Jews as “my people, right or wrong.” In sticking to the right, Jews need not fear being carried away by their zeal.

Jews must act preemptively, unprovoked, even against peaceful natives. Deut2:24, “Look, I gave Sihon, the king of Heshbon the Amorite, and his land into your hand—start the conquest. And launch a military campaign against him.” The land was unquestionably Sihon’s; God confirmed it to be his land. The Amorites may not have been righteous, but they were right in the civil sense. In the Jewish war to conquer the Promised Land civil matters are unimportant. European settlers in America, too, ignored civil rights when they dispossessed and eliminated the Native Indians. Most states were formed in such a fashion. The Jews must start a war: the Torah has no qualms that they are offenders of peace.

The lesson is tremendous: in the quest for the Promised Land, Jews must disregard every civic notion: breach peace, evict the rightful owners of the land, and kill them. Perhaps the times have changed, and what was normal for the ancients is hateful today? Wrong. Not only does the continuation of the Torah, given thousands years ago, presume that its object, a society, remains the same, but murder was always murder. We need not dwell on Greek tragedies extolling virtues similar to the modern leftist press. Consider Numbers 31:15, in which Moses, “the humblest of all men,” fumes at the Jewish militia returning from a campaign against the Midians, “Did you leave females alive?” The Jews were perfectly able to recognize the killing of prisoners, especially women and children, as murder, so they left them alive—but Moshe overrode them. Acting on the divine authority (v.2), he instructed Jews, including the Levitical priests, to murder male children and widowed women (v.17).

The Rabbis taught: when someone extols the divine mercy expressed in the commandment to avoid killing the bird while taking eggs from its nest, we shut him up. If he extols the commandments as merciful, what would he do when faced with a horribly cruel, exterminatory commandment? All commandments are of absolute authority, all are closed to questioning, and all are above human morality.

Back to Sihon. Moses had no trouble relying on the divine commission (v.26). He entreated Sihon to give the Jews the right of peaceful passage, which the Jews needed in order to attack unsuspecting Heshbonites. Not being stupid, Sihon refused, giving Moses the excuse he needed to attack him. God approved of Moses’ artful plan, for he “hardened the heart of Sihon,” making him refuse Moses’ fake offer of peace (v.30).

And here the exile option ends. After Sihon went to battle with the invading Jews (v.32), Moses relates proudly, they exterminated men, women, and children in all of his towns, leaving not a single human being alive (v.34). Lest we think that that was an exception, the Torah continues with a similar account of King Og of Bashan (3:6). Here, God uses the genocide in Heshbon as a proper example: “Do unto him like you have done to Sihon.” (3:2)

Needless to say, Jews robbed their enemies (3:7), which is why the occasional IDF investigations of marauders are so ridiculous—Jewish soldiers are religiously entitled to the booty, it is not up to us to decide.

A big question is, why did God harden the hearts of the natives so that they opposed us and we had to exterminate rather than expel them? Probably for the same reason he hardened Pharaoh’s heart: to punish him for previous transgressions. The difference between exile and extermination reveals the straightforward divine logic of “my people, right or wrong”: after a nation takes up arms against his people, it loses the divine entitlement to life. Moses recognized that logic when exhorting Yehoshua bin Nun: “You see what Lord your God did to those two kings… Lord your God, he fights the battle for you” (3:21-22). Atheist Jews might find respite in the fact that they are not alone: Krishna said similar things to Arjuna before the battle in which Arjuna had to kill a multitude of his relatives; so much for pacifist Hinduism.

In the same verse, the Torah bridges the gap between past and present, “The same things God will do to all kingdoms where you come.”